Were the NFC playoffs to begin today, the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints would be the top seed and lone team with a first-round bye thanks to their 9-2 record – even though the Saints have been without starting quarterback Drew Brees the past two games due to injury and won’t get him back this Sunday in Atlanta, either. The Saints are the Mybookie betting favorites to win the conference title for the second time in franchise history.
Playoff After Week 12 | 2020 NFL Expert Analysis
Last week, the Saints destroyed the Broncos 31-3 in Denver. New Orleans backup QB Taysom Hill rushed for two touchdowns. Hill, who had two rushing touchdowns in his first career start at quarterback in Week 11, is the second player with at least two rushing touchdowns in each of his first two career starts at quarterback in the Super Bowl era, joining Detroit’s Eric Hipple in 1981.
Hill has yet to throw a single TD pass in his two starts, though, and was just 9-for-16 for 78 yards against Denver. The Saints aren’t going to keep beating people with that little passing attack. Sunday’s game against Atlanta will be the third game Brees has missed due to his ribs injury — which is the minimum amount of games players need to miss before they can be re-activated from the injured reserve. Brees has shied away from giving a timeline for his return but should be back before the end of the regular season.
The Seattle Seahawks (8-3) lead the NFC West and would be the No. 2 seed as things stand; NFC North-leading Green Bay is also 8-3 but lost a game earlier this year to Seattle and thus would lose that tiebreaker. The Packers would win a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Saints.
Seattle had lost three straight road games before a 23-16 victory in Philadelphia on Monday night. Russell Wilson completed 22-of-31 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown. Seattle has tried to run the ball more in recent weeks. The team has passed on just 56.3 percent of its offensive plays over the past three weeks. That’s down from the Seahawks’ season-long rate of 60.8 percent. No quarterback dropped back to pass more than Wilson over the season’s first 10 weeks.
“Early on [this season] when we didn’t have to run the ball much because we were rolling throwing the football, those guys were out there and we almost took it for granted,” Coach Pete Carroll said. “I’m disappointed about that because that’s the element of our football that makes us this style of team that we are and it makes Russ’ job different than it is when he has to throw the ball 40 times or 50 times. He certainly can do it and loves doing it and we don’t mind doing it, but our football is better shaped when we’re balanced and we’re attacking you and we can play off of that.”
Green Bay routed Chicago on Sunday night and is a lock to win the NFC North. QB Aaron Rodgers is in the mix to win a third career NFL MVP Award. In Week 12, Rodgers had his fifth game of the season with four touchdown passes and zero interceptions. That’s tied for the most such games in a season in Packers history. Rodgers also did it in 2011, his first MVP season. Brett Favre did it in 1996, his second of three MVP seasons. The only player with more games of four touchdowns and no interceptions in a season is Peyton Manning (with six) in 2013. He won the MVP for the season too.
Despite a 4-7 record, the New York Giants would be the current No. 4 seed in the NFC as they have won three straight to go from last in the NFC East to first. Their immediate future is in question as quarterback Daniel Jones nurses a hamstring injury, though. Jones is likely to miss at least one game.
The Los Angeles Rams (7-4) sit fifth in the NFC with Tampa Bay (7-5) sixth and Arizona (6-5) seventh. The Buccaneers will head into their bye trying to figure out the struggles that have led to three losses in their past four games. They’re giving up 28.8 points per game over that stretch and now have no chance to catch the Saints for the NFC South title.
Minnesota (5-6) is the first team on the outside looking in. The Vikings came back from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit Sunday to beat the Panthers, Minnesota’s fourth victory in five games.
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